Presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre
By Christian Duhamel and Edward Bell
Conceived and performed by Charissa Bertels
Directed by Sean Daniels
Review by Craig Idlebrook
(Lowell, MA) A one-person play is like a long blind date – you are stuck with a stranger for the evening, so you inwardly pray beforehand that you’ll like them. But when that one person is actress Charissa Bertels performing her passion project, My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend, you might find yourself cursing time for flying so fast through an entertaining evening.
In this autobiographical musical, Bertels plays a struggling version of herself with the perfect amount of self-deprecating charm. She takes us back to a time when she was an actress sprinting from cattle call auditions to a temp job giving away samples of juice. While on the job, she is chatted up by Milton, an octogenarian millionaire who takes a fancy to her because of her red hair. The two strike up a tender friendship that feels just bumpy enough to be realistic; there’s no Tuesdays with Morrie feel with this friendship – the two characters push and poke at each other’s weak spots to grow up and grow closer together.
Bertels’ performance is the best asset of this play. She owns the stage from the first moment she hurries onto it, and never lets up with the energy of her performance. She also manages to avoid caricature when shifting from herself to Milton, despite the fact that Milton seems the walking definition of a curmudgeon. The music fades to the background a bit during this play, and a secondary plot of Charissa’s estrangement from her father feels unfinished, but the action onstage is so enjoyable that any flaws go unnoticed until after the lights go up.
Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s artistic director Sean Daniels, who also directs the show, seems to have made a conscious choice to favor new plays for this season. It’s a strategy that can be high-risk and high-reward. My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend is the last play of Daniels’ second season as artistic director, and it also represents the most enjoyable risk he has taken. Here’s to many more undiscovered gems.
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Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD
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